Update, March 12, 2013: After deliberating for 16 hours, the jury found Gilberto Valle guilty of both conspiracy to kidnap several women and unauthorized access of a government database. He will be sentenced on June 19.
A year ago this month, a New York City police officer named Gilberto Valle completed a round of intensive negotiations with a young auto mechanic in Trenton, N.J., named Michael Van Hise. Would Valle consider taking some kind of payment plan, Van Hise asked over an online chat? No, the officer replied, the full $5,000 would be due upon delivery. Then Valle added one caveat, as a business courtesy: "Just so that you know she may be knocked out when I get her to you," he typed.
According to a felony complaint filed by the FBI, the two men had just worked out a plan to abduct a woman and transport her across state lines for the purposes of raping, killing, cooking, and eating her. Now both will be tried in federal court on conspiracy charges. If convicted, they face life in prison. Jury selection for Valle's trial begins Friday, with opening arguments scheduled for the end of the month.
His alleged crimes point to a ghastly plot: The FBI asserts that Valle looked up recipes for chloroform; that he created a computer document entitled "Abducting and Cooking [name withheld]: a Blueprint," which listed several "materials needed," including a rope; that he negotiated prices online, bemoaned the difficulty of dislocating a woman's jaw, and mused over the size of his oven and his "favorite cut of meat." Valle is also said to have looked up personal details of one intended victim in the National Crime Information Center database—an improper use of his law-enforcement privileges for which he is also under indictment.
The charges were a tabloid bonanza—"here's something for jurors to sink their teeth into," wrote the New York Post, and then "he's stewing behind bars," "he's hungry for some help from his fellow freaks," and "bring on the second course," among other classic ledes. But the story of Gilberto Valle seems less that of an incipient serial killer than of a hapless pervert caught up in some sadistic role-plays. His attorney will argue that Valle never intended to kidnap anyone and that his graphic Internet exchanges were nothing more than sexual theatrics, and she's probably right. It's time to defend the “cannibal cop”: He's a weirdo, not a monster, and the U.S. attorney's office means to roast him on the spit of prudery and overcaution. Gilberto Valle's fantasies are sick. His real-life prosecution may be even sicker.
The facts themselves are not particularly forgiving. The government claims that Valle used his police privileges to stalk at least one woman online. If he's guilty of that charge, he should be punished appropriately. (It looks like that could mean up to five years in prison.) The officer is also accused of being in the vicinity of one potential abductee's home and of having met with another in person. At around the same time, he was discussing these women’s violent demise with his online friends, or "co-conspirators."
Van Hise, the auto mechanic, apparently distributed photos of his nieces to Internet pals, offering them as sex slaves and naming the neighborhood in which they live. Even while he was in discussions with the FBI to testify against Valle, Van Hise allegedly went online to discuss raping his 3-year-old stepdaughter. Now he, too, claims these were all just dark fantasies—but he isn't likely to take the stand in Valle's defense. Given that he is under indictment himself, anything Van Hise said to the FBI during his cooperation—whether true or not—could come out on the witness stand.
These details suggest that Van Hise is a pedophile and into heavy S&M and that both men were enthusiastic members of an online fetish community known as "vore" (as in carnivore, from the same root as devour). Vore fetishists may be men who imagine eating women, but the interest includes those (men and women) who would rather be eaten themselves, as well as others who prefer to watch people eating animals or animals eating people.
The defense will argue that Valle's fantasies were within the bounds, broadly defined, of this community and reflective of its fondness for explicit art and theater. Step one of this legal strategy would be to inoculate the members of the jury against the not-so-niceties of his fetish by making them acquainted with the bizarre and sometimes disturbing imagery of the vore message boards. This week, Gawker published several images (NSFW) found on Valle's computer, which his attorney had asked to show prospective jurors. These included a woman hogtied with an apple in her mouth, another bound to a spit, and a cartoon depicting a naked woman named "Karyn" who chats flirtatiously with her captor while being boiled alive with a carrot stuffed into her vagina.
Whether you find these images ridiculous, disturbing, or both—they're purposefully positioned at the border— the culture behind them as a whole refutes genuine brutality against women. Like many vore fetishists, Valle spent time on a website called Muki's Kitchen (NSFW) that features pornographic (but not overtly violent) photos of adult women in scenes of mock-cannibalism—some posed as if roasting above a fire, others boiling in a cauldron.